It's been said that next week's election is a referendum on the past eight years, which have been characterized by the catastrophic mistakes of the current administration. Senator John McCain has labored hard to distance himself from that storyline. He's sold himself as a moderate who can work across the aisles, a reformer who has attacked the establishment, and above all, a maverick who transcends party politics, even at the expense of his career.
It's true that he's been trashed and torn down by his fellow Republicans, especially the more extreme elements of his party, who have questioned his commitment to "traditional values." And President Bush's blind-siding of McCain eight years ago in South Carolina is the stuff of political legend.
So, it's curious that McCain comes before us with a plan for our country that looks remarkably like George W. Bush's failed blueprint.
Permanent tax cuts for the wealthy? - check.
No plan for universal health care? - check.
No plan for Social Security and Medicare? - check.
A shoot-first, ask questions later foreign policy? - check.
Wonder what the McCain administration is going to look like and how it will govern? Don't look forward - just look back.
On the other hand, we have Barack Obama, a transcendental figure who stands on the cusp of doing something that many of us thought we would never see in our lifetime, becoming the first minority to hold our country's highest office. But he's more than just that carefully cultivated image. He's a candidate who understands that America over the past eight years has lost its course. Our poorly managed pre-emptive wars, foot dragging on global warming and recent financial freefall have tarnished our image.
Things haven't been much better at home where job growth has slowed to a near stop. The stock market is in the tank, taking many Americans' retirement savings with it. And most working Americans are no better off than they were a decade ago - in many cases we are worse off. Too many of our schools are failing our children. Meanwhile, the cost of college tuition and medical insurance has eclipsed a family's ability to pay. In other words, the American Dream is slipping away from many Americans.
To take a slogan from the campaign, it's time for a change in Washington. Obama understnds that it's time for America to use its vast wealth and power to benefit all Americans, not just a few privileged ones in the hopes that some of the spoils will trickle down to the rest of us.
For all of McCain's maverick talk, it's instructive to note that he's come out with a plan for America that looks remarkably like the status quo. We're not sure what happened to the courageous senator who once stood up against Bush's tax cuts and took on campaign finance reform. He certainly hasn't been present in the current campaign. It's also worth noting that when it came time to choose a running mate, McCain didn't look for a politician with experience, something that he has touted as being so important on his own resume. Instead, he caved to the far-right wing of his party, by nominating Sarah Palin, a woman whose primary credentials were her NRA card and her staunch opposition to abortion. It was a calculated and ultimately foolish choice. The fact that McCain, a cancer survivor, will be the oldest president to start a first term in office, makes us all the more worried about a Palin presidency.
What matters most is not age, or experience, or even ideology. It is the vision that the two candidates have for our country. Obama believes that government, when done right, can make our nation stronger, growing our economy while tackling issues like health care and Social Security that Republicans, whether in control of Congress or the White House, have ignored for too long. Unlike McCain, Obama understands that not all problems can be solved by private industry, just as government cannot solve all of our social ills.
McCain would have us believe that Reaganomics Round Three will somehow turn out differently. But the idea that more tax cuts and cutting the size of government will somehow rescue our economy, while providing all those things it's failed to do in the past, like steady wages for the middle class, health care, bridges that won't fall down and a secure retirement for workers, is a fantasy.
That theory is as bankrupt as the Wall Street titans that benefited so handsomely from it over the past few years. So let's retire it, and its supporters like McCain, and begin the rebuilding process that is so badly needed for most Americans.
This may be the best chance we have to restore our great country, use it to elect the one person who gets it, Barack Obama.